Saturday, November 19, 2011

occupy USA

Photo via Iowa City Patch.
There's been a lot of talk recently about the Occupy Movement. Here in Iowa City we have our own version: Occupy College Green. A bunch of students and a few other residents have put up tents and have been camping out in College Green Park, a small park a few blocks away from downtown Iowa City. While it sort of seems like the OCG protesters have missed the boat a little bit—they're not located in a central location where people can see them and ask questions and figure out what they're all about—they're still staying strong and sleeping in tents as temperatures continue to drop. And, in classic Midwestern fashion, the city has been more than polite about the whole thing. "Killing them with kindness" as one of my co-workers said. They've donated free port-a-potties for the protesters and even send police officers over to the park at night to keep them safe from the drunk college students who roam the area every weekend. The protesters themselves have been moving their tents around the park pretty regularly and we think they're doing that as a nod to the city so they don't kill the grass beneath their tents.

However, the most discussion I've heard about the movement itself is on the bus ride home from undergrads who make comments to each other about the "hippies camped out in the park who want socialism." Clearly they don't know what socialism is and haven't taken the time to actually find out about this world-wide (yes, world-wide) protest movement is all about.

I admit that I am not as well-informed as I could be either. I've walked through the park a few times since the Occupiers took up residence there and I haven't stopped to talk to anyone about what they're hoping to accomplish or what motivated them to join the movement. I have, however, been following the nation-wide movements via the internet and television and there seems to be a lot of conflicting information out there (surprising no one). However I've tried to take some things that I know and see how they fit into the current situation.

The First Amendment. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom of assembly. These are things that are guaranteed to citizens of the United States by our Bill of Rights. I know that we, as citizens, are free to assemble in a public place and we are free to protest. These are things I've been taught since grade school. Cornell University Law School elaborates on our First Amendment rights by explaining:
The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through the courts (litigation) or other governmental action. It works with the right of assembly by allowing people to join together and seek change from the government.
This is what is happening now. The protesters aren't in the streets because they like to play bongos and wave their fingers around, they are protesting against corporations and their corrosive hold on the democratic process and the lives of Americans. As explicated on
Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #ows is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.
I don't know about you, but I think that sounds pretty legit. 

You can name call the protesters all you want—thugs, terrorists, homeless, dirty, bongo-playing hippies—and that is your right to do so. However, when police are pepper spraying peaceful protesters in the face at close range, arresting people for peacefully sitting in a public place, and dismissing the press from an area so they can slash protesters' tents, you cannot say that what the government is doing through the police force is not a violation of the protesters rights, of all of our rights.

However, what scares me most perhaps, is how oblivious so many people still seem to be to these events. So, World, don't just take my word for it, inform yourselves! Use wikipedia and google and facebook and twitter and hulu and youtube and find out what is actually going in your world! I dare you.

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